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Memorials

Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman

 

Gratitude for Unimagined Bounty

 

In a dystopian science fiction story, entitled “Houseflies”, Joe Pitkin offers a frightening vision of the future, when as a result of humankind’s destruction of the natural order, only 13 species of plants and animals have survived. Aside from corn and tomatoes, most of the surviving species contributing to the food web would be repugnant to most of us: fennel pondweed, buckhorn plantain, common ragweed, tangy ragwort, the common earthworm, two different species of mite, the common pill wood louse, Mormon crickets, and house flies. Not an inviting culinary future.

 

I contrast that with the expansion of what is available to us nowadays. With some exceptions, such as pluots, a cross between plums and apricots, Honey Crisp apples, and some varieties of wine grapes produced by Cornell, most of the additions to our diet have been around for centuries, but were unknown to most of us half a century ago. Contrast the produce section of our markets today with those of 50, 60 years ago: baby arugula was nowhere to be seen; English and Israeli cucumbers didn’t make it to these shores; beets came in one color, as did radishes—who knew of French radishes and watermelon radishes? And did we know that there were yellow potatoes let alone purple potatoes? And when did we first learn about fingerling potatoes? (It turns out that in Peru that there are some 3,000 varieties of potatoes: so many more kinds of potatoes to make their way up north.) And, of course, fruits were seasonal: you couldn’t find fresh blueberries in the middle of winter. Now they are grown in South America and shipped north—not as cheap as in the summer; but nonetheless available. And until about 40 years when a couple, one of whom who had grown up in Australia, introduced us to the fruit, we had never seen let alone tasted a kiwi. And then there are the wide variety of mushrooms that now are readily available plus produce originally grown in other parts of the globe, such as Asia.

 

It would be easy to continue to expand further about the diversity of produce available to us, including small tomatoes coming in a variety of colors. (The strange thing is that unlike apple varieties, tomato varieties more or less all taste the same.) But I have made my point. We need to be mindful of this seemingly ever-expanding variety of produce at our doorsteps. And therefore, we need to strive to ensure that we don’t help create a world as dark and as unsavory as envisaged by Joe Pitkin.

 

And for the moment, beyond the abundance of supermarkets, we can enjoy the blessings of fresh and locally grown produce. Ah, for freshly picked corn. Yum. And if you venture to try a new fruit or vegetable or a variant of a familiar one, such as a candy-striped beet, or even one you haven’t tasted in a long time, perhaps reciting Shechecheyanu is in order as a reminder of one’s gratitude for such variety and bounty.

 

Shabbat shalom

 

 

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Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel

 

Supermarket Waste: The Wasteless Solution

 

How to reduce food waste is a major challenge for supermarkets. In the European Union, it is calculated that 2.5% to 4% of the retailer’s annual turnover is literally being thrown away. In the United States the percentage is even higher: approaching 5½%.

 

Oded Omer, who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston before obtaining an engineering degree from Tel Aviv University and a MBA from Holon Institute of Technology, has created a company called Wasteless to deal with this problem of food waste. Omer believes that technology can reduce food waste dramatically, using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and at the same time boost revenue by an average of 6%.

 

Given that 2/3 of consumers when offered a choice between a discounted product with a shorter expiration date, and the same product with a longer expiration date will opt for the discounted option, there is clearly a demand for AI generated pricing.

 

Omer offered the example of a store selling chicken thighs. Rather than on the last day offering a 40% markdown, begin several days earlier with smaller markdowns, gradually increasing the markdown before the final sell-by date. He believes that done this way, the retailer will never have to slash prices by the 40%. Clearly, products such as fresh meat, fish, and dairy, would be targeted for using this technology.

 

The Wasteless system requires electronic shelf labels linked to a computer system which tracks the sale of the product. The system, which is updated 2 to 4 times daily, displays both the original price and the markdown so consumers can see how much they’re saving with the product with the shorter shelf life. The system requires a 13 digit barcode that includes the expiration date, a coding system slowly being introduced here in the U.S. Whole Goods and Publix already employ it.

 

In 2019, Wasteless’ system was deployed in an Italian supermarket chain. It reduced waste by nearly 40% and increased revenue by almost the same amount. Since then the company has signed 4 other customers, including the METRO chain in Europe.

 

As for Omer, while the company keeps him busy, he still finds time to play the bass and every few days joins with other musicians for a jam session.

 

P.S. The Israeli Olympic Baseball Team tied in the top of the 9th its opening game against Korea, but lost in the 10th, 6-5.

 

 

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Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion

 

The portion of Aykev (Deuteronomy 9:4-10:11) is read this Saturday, July 31st.

 

9:15 I started down the mountain, a mountain ablaze with fire, the two tablets of the Covenant in my two hands. (16) I saw how you had sinned against the Lord your God: you had made yourselves a molten calf; you had been quick to stray from the path the Lord had enjoined upon you. (17) Thereupon I gripped the two tablets and flung them away with both my hands, smashing them before your eyes. (18) I threw myself down before the Lord—eating no bread and drinking no water forty days and forty night, as before—because of the great wrong you had committed, doing what displeased the Lord and vexing him. (19) For I was in dread of the Lord’s fierce anger against you, which moved Him to wipe you out. And that time, too, the Lord gave heed to me. – (20) Moreover, the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to have destroyed him; so, I also interceded for Aaron at that time. —

 

9:20 so I also interceded for Aaron at that time. This prayer was not mentioned at the time of the incident of the [Golden] Calf. This was to honor Aaron, for Moses didn’t wish to mention this during his brother’s lifetime, that he had to pray on his [Aaron’s] behalf, lest he be embarrassed—But after his death it was possible to mention this [intervention.]. (Rabbi Avraham Menachem ben Yaakov Porto aka Rafa/Rapaport, Minchah B’lulah [A Mixed Offering]. Rabbi Porto was born in 1520. In his youth he studied in Venice and became a proofreader. He was present during the burning of the Talmud in that city, which occurred on the 13th and 14th of Cheshvan in 1553 and he would later designate these two days as days of mourning and fasting. In 1555, he published Tzafenat Pane’ach [Joseph’s Egyptian name], which contains a cypher-code of his own invention. By 1574 he had left Venice and moved to Cremona where he remained until at least 1582.  While there, in 1575, he was appointed one of three Health Commissioners. From 1584 to 1592 he served as the rabbi of Verona. In 1592 he was in Cologne and died sometime after 1594. His Minchah B’lulah was first published in 1594, and is a commentary on the Torah, based on the midrashic tradition. His commentaries on other volumes of the Hebrew Bible as well as on the Ethics of the Fathers remain in manuscript. In his writings he alluded to a now lost work in which he proved the existence of demons. Rabbi Porto was one of those who initially forbade the reading of Azariah de Rossi’s work, Me’or Aynayim, as it included criticisms of some of Talmudic passages, wherein he asserted that they were ahistorical. Rabbi Porto would later retract this ban. His signature appeared on communal decrees issued in 1573 banning gambling and the infringement of moneylending franchises held by fellow Jews.)

 

 

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Questions for Aykev 5781 (Deuteronomy 9:4-10:11)

 

  1. Why is Israel enabled to possess the land of Israel?
  2. For how long did Moses fast on Mount Sinai and why?
  3. What are the differences between the account here of the Golden Calf episode and the one in Exodus 32?
  4. Why does Moses wait until now to say that God was angry with Aaron for his role in the Golden Calf incident?
  5. What happened at Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth Ha-ttavah? Why mention them and the failed effort to enter the land in the midst of a discussion of what happened at Sinai?
  6. According to chapter 9 how did Moses persuade God not to wipe out the Israelites?
  7. Is the ark that Moses is commanded to make identical with the one created by Bezalel back in Exodus?
  8. Why mention the death of Aaron here? What are the differences in the chronology between the text here in 10:6-7 and Numbers 33:37-43?
  9. Is any reason offered for why the Levites were selected to carry the Ark and “stand in attendance upon the Lord?” What does Exodus 32 suggest?

 

Questions for the Haftorah (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

 

  1. What is God’s response to Zion’s despair?
  2. How will the nations and their rulers treat the exiles?
  3. Where else does the phrase “the mighty One of Jacob” appear?
  4. What does it mean that God is the Vindicator?
  5. Is Sarah mentioned anywhere else in prophetic literature other than here in 51:2?

 

Mon, August 2 2021 24 Av 5781